National Post

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Wednesday, September 08, 1999

Sex education courses not to blame for active teens, educators say
Too short, too limited: Programs don't deal with motivation or behaviour
Tom Arnold
National Post

Canadian educators say sex education courses in Canada are too short and too limited to be blamed for encouraging younger teenagers to become sexually active.

"People very often latch onto a belief that teen pregnancies are related to sex education programs in schools," said Alex McKay, research co-ordinator for the Sex Information & Education Council of Canada.

"It's not true. The fact is that most of the sex education programs here are neither long enough nor of a sufficient quality to [affect] teen pregnancy or teen sexually transmitted disease statistics," he said.

The increasing number of pregnancies among Canadian teenagers is more likely due to problems like poverty and inadequate education, health and social services, particularly in urban areas, said Mr. McKay.

But Corry Morcos, past-president of the Alberta Federation of Women United for Families, disagreed. "Teenagers are really casual and curious about sex because sex educators have taught that it shouldn't be threatening and should be normal, like eating and drinking. And that's why we're having more pregnancies."

Mrs. Morcos said educating teens about sex is a parental responsibility. "It should not be brought up at all in the school system.

"We do know that children are far more sexually active today than they were in the past, when they were taught that you do not have sex before marriage. Now, sex education encourages teenagers to have sex. They are taught that it is something that everybody else is doing anyhow, so we might as well get prepared for it."

Canada's most definitive research on teen pregnancy rates is several years old, but it indicates that the rates are lower in Canada than in the United States and Europe.

The rate was also lower in 1994 than it was two decades earlier, though the rate had been increasing since 1987.

Deborah Hardwick, a sexual health research consultant with the City of Toronto, said yesterday some believe the rate could now be dropping. "Canada's rates are lower than the U.S., by a long shot. They increased here up until 1995 and we think that they may have started to decrease in 1996."

Rates began declining among U.S. teens in the early 1990s.

Mr. McKay said most sex education courses in Canada are not particularly detailed. "A typical sex education program might teach teenagers the steps of condom use, unrolling it and things like that," he said. "Those steps you can read on the side of the box of condoms. What you don't find in sex education classes are exercises which would help a teenager bring up condom use with a partner and talk about how to do it and why."

Still, he acknowledged that more intensive sexual education programs could alter teenagers' behaviour.

"There is research that shows when you provide within programs the relevant and specific information, on motivation and behavioural skills, that you can have an impact on behaviour," he said. "But most Canadian sex education classes in the schools don't meet that criteria."

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